One of the main narratives of 2017 on our end has been the glut of highly experimental extreme metal releases pushing the limits of what was previously thought possible within the genre. Dodecahedron took the avant-garde dissonance of Deathspell Omega to the next level; Artificial Brain conjured up impossibly grand visions of a lifeless future with atmospheric atonality; John Frum refined the trappings of experimental death metal in a more psychedelic direction; Jute Gyte hid a fleshy, pulsing core of black metal beneath industrial screeches and serialist chaos; Tchornobog carved harsh desert landscapes by fusing the grim vacuity of Gorguts with the speed and intensity of Mithras. You get the point. It hasn’t exactly been a bad year for the genre, which has two effects: mediocre-to-good releases get buried underneath their betters, and great albums stand out even more based on the sheer amount of work they have to do to be considered great.
Pyrrhon‘s new release certainly belongs in the latter camp. I’m not going to mince words with this one: What Passes For Survival is a fantastic album, easily one of the frontrunners of this year’s crop of metal releases, both in its genre and overall. This New York City-based camp of miscreants employs a more math-metal-and-jazz-influenced style through which they filter pummeling, mind-bending death metal; the result of this is a sound that feels dirtier, scrappier, more vicarious and intimately in touch with themes like urban decay and forced sacrifice. As the excellent album art shows, What Passes For Survival is the soundtrack to an animal chewing off its own limb to escape a hunter’s trap. Life in Pyrrhon’s constructed world of juddering, staccato bursts of noise and arrhythmic death metal lurches resembles reality: it’s tough, and sometimes it just fucking sucks for no reason, but that’s life, and you gotta keep on keeping on.
The vehicle for this rests on the interplay between the members of the band and the interactions of their respective roles: all three instrumentalists work together to build complex, layered landscapes of sonic violence. None of the music is ever carried on the back of a single individual while the rest of the band just creates additional sound; there’s always a foundation to the madness, something that seems counter-intuitive given how large a part improvisation plays into the band’s formula, but even that must have a structure from which it bursts forth. Salvo after salvo of burning pitch is lobbed at the listener by the three-pronged instrumental assault, and when it lets up for a rare break amidst the chaos, it’s only to re-emphasize just how much damage the band is capable of causing.
Special attention must be given to Doug Moore’s vocals: blessed with a phenomenal range of harsh tones with which to work his magic, the vocals on What Passes For Survival range from a deep, gurgling guttural to a throat-piercing shriek, with a handle of midpoints between these two that serve to emphasize the raw emotion present across the record. Garbled, demonic-megaphone shouts and a vicious bark add to the already-unconventional approach for some mantra-esque moments, such as the end of the first track, “The Happy Victim’s Creed.”
Pyrrhon might be one of the most abrasive and intentionally inaccessible albums of 2017’s crop of weirdo extreme metal, but everything on What Passes For Survival serves a purpose. Through improvised noise freak-outs, rambling passages of jazz filtered through hazy distortion, and orchestrated blasts of angular metal riffing, Pyrrhon broadcasts a vision of a post-nuclear wasteland where life isn’t, perhaps, as different from our current state as we’d like to imagine it being. If we’re teetering on the abyss, What Passes For Survival is a hellish storm of sound blasting out of it towards us, showing us a glimpse of what very well could be. And if that wasteland on the other side is where Pyrrhon works their magic? Well, you’ll find me there, along for the ride.